Chosen But Free, Second Edition

Geisler, Norman.

Chosen But Free, 2nd ed.

Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2001. P285. Paper. $18.99

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Norman Geisler is without a doubt one of the most prolific writers of the modern age having authored or co-authored more than 60 books. As an apologist he’s top notch but good apologetics doesn’t always equate to good theology.

Chosen But Free (hereafter CBF) seeks to present a ‘Balanced View of Divine Election’ while avoiding what Geisler calls ‘extreme-Calvinism’ and ‘extreme-Arminianism.’ Geisler dubs himself a ‘moderate-Calvinist’ which as far as this reviewer can tell equates to nothing more than a conglomeration of Calvinism and Arminianism. The book begins by presenting the Biblical foundation for the sovereignty of God by highlighting God’s essential attributes and functions such as: eternality/timelessness, his role as Creator and Sustainer, transcendence, omniscience, omnipotence, etc. He then goes on to note that due to God’s sovereignty, He even controls our free choices.

But this seeming contradiction is explained in that God in his divine foreknowledge has orchestrated history according to human choices. In a nut shell, God didn’t make anyone do anything against their wills, hence they are responsible, but God used their choices to accomplish his purposes. He rejects the ‘extreme-Calvinist’ caricature against the Arminian view of election that God somehow looked down the halls of time and purposed his plan according to what he knew humans would do. On the contrary, Geisler asserts that “…if God is an eternal and simple Being, then His thoughts must be eternally coordinate and unified…whatever God fore-chooses cannot be based on what he foreknows. Nor can what he foreknows be based on what he forechose. Both must be simultaneous, eternal, and coordinate acts of God.” (p. 53) This does seem an adequate answer to the problem at hand.

The book falls apart for me in the next few chapters (“Avoiding Extreme Calvinism,” “Avoiding Extreme Calvinism cont.,” “Avoiding Extreme Arminianism”) in that he represents what is commonly understood to be Classical 5 Point Calvinism as ‘extreme.’ Geisler does not use the term ‘hyper’ because he recognizes that Hyper-Calvinism is different from what he terms ‘extreme’ (p. 215-16). He also labels Neo-Theism ‘extreme Arminianism’ in what seems to be an attempt to distance himself from Arminianism. From my summation Geisler is more in line with Classical Arminianism than he is with Calvinism in any of its forms. I see these three chapters as nothing more than an attempt to give credence to this mixed theology that he calls ‘moderate Calvinism.’ Both parties, Calvinists and Arminians alike were misrepresented in the most obvious ways.

I believe that the Calvinist/Arminian dichotomy has deceived many Christians into believing that they must fall into one of the two groups in order to have any kind of coherent theology. Geisler seems no different in that he wants to hold the label of ‘Calvinist’ while not actually believing what Calvinists believe, or more properly claiming to believe what Calvinists believe in a ‘moderate way’.

In the 7th chapter entitled A Plea for Moderation, Geisler presents a defense of ‘eternal security’ which is reminiscent of Charles Stanley. This is one of the most glaring inconsistencies in this position of ‘moderate Calvinism’ in that it is not based in an eternal decree of election which the Calvinist believes occurred before the foundation of the world. While not a Calvinist, I understand that Perseverance of the Saints is a doctrine that fits snuggly into the framework of Calvinism, being rooted in their doctrines of Election and Predestination. But Geisler’s doctrine of eternal security has no such foundation in that he holds to free will. It does not follow that one is free to believe while dead in sin but once regenerated is not free to cease believing.

In response to this type of argumentation Geisler says, “Some decisions in life are one-way with no possibility of reversing them: suicide for example… by this same logic the Arminian would have to argue that we can be lost even after we get to heaven. But if we are still free in heaven and yet cannot be lost, then why is it logically impossible for us to be free on earth and yet never lose our salvation?” (p. 127) Geisler assumes facts not in evidence, namely that we will be free in heaven. The Bible is simply silent on this issue and as Geisler well knows (holding a PhD in philosophy), silence proves silence. And the analogy between suicide and apostasy is faulty in that once a person kills themself they have no means by which to make any choices, but once a person is regenerated they still have their faculty of reason. And it would seem a fitting analogy in the context of Hebrews 6:4-6 which speaks of the impossibility of repentance to those who reject God after having known him. Perhaps we could view apostasy as spiritual suicide.

Geisler offer quite a few appendices some of which seem irrelevant such as Great Christian Church Fathers on Free Will. In this appendix he lists quite a few quotes from early fathers in order to support the belief in free will in the early Church, but this only proves that the belief existed, not that it is Biblical. A similar argument could be put forth for infant baptism or inclusion of the deuterocanon into the canon of scripture, but Geisler would reject both claims. For a subject such as this the God-Breathed Scriptures should be the main source of authority.

The appendix asking the question “Was Calvin a Calvinist?” seems out of place. It is clear that Calvin was a Calvinist and the system that bears his name is in line with the full body of his work. But Calvin like any other man is subject to inconsistency and yes, even the occasional change of thought on any given subject. This being the case it would not be a surprise that some of his writings could be used to assert that he believed one thing or another. I believe that Geisler has taken Calvin out of context and used him in a way that he would have never approved of.

Geisler does well in defending faith being a gift given to more than the elect alone as well as the doctrine of Unlimited Atonement. He even points out something that I have oft noticed which is when dealing with a passage such as John 1:29 or 1John 2:2 the Calvinist will “cite passages (like Luke 2:1-2) from another book, in another context, used in a geographical (not a redemptive) sense in a futile attempt to prove their point.” (p. 201)

Geisler concludes this 2nd edition of CBF with a response to James White’s The Potter’s Freedom, documenting what he claims were an abundance of logical fallacies on the part of White. Having never read TPF I can’t comment on whether or not the appendix was correct in its summation, but I have read White’s response in which he speculates that this appendix may have not been the work of Geisler but perhaps a class of graduate students. I’ll have to pick up TPF and compare notes.

All in all, CBF is a book that gets one thinking which I feel is a good thing. But from a theological perspective I think that Geisler has come up short. I don’t see his moderate view as a better alternative to the Calvinist/Arminian dichotomy in that it is inconsistent within itself. At least these systems are logically consistent for better or worse. I would recommend CBF to the reader interested in simply getting another view on the election issue. It has its strong points (e.g. the Biblical defense of Unlimited Atonement) and its weak points (i.e. the caricatures of both Classical Calvinism as being ‘extreme’ and Neo-Theism as being Arminianism).



27 thoughts on “Chosen But Free, Second Edition

  1. Nick:

    I read your review and am curious as to whether there is a book that presents a balanced view on Divine election? I am asking with all honesty, not in a sarcastic manner. This whole issue interests me, so if such a book exists, I would like to read it.

  2. Todd: I haven’t read a lot of books on the subject, so I wouldn’t know if such a book does exist. I’m doubtful though. I think most folks who write on the subject, do so with a theological axe to grind. The Calvinist wants to show why he’s right and the Arminian wants to show why he’s right. Geisler tried to act as a middle position, kind of, but ultimately failed because he wanted what he saw as the benefits of Calvinism (i.e., perseverence of the saints/eternal security) without the foundation that makes sense of such a thing (i.e., unconditional election & limited atonement).

    If I ever come across a book that gives election a balanced treatment then I’ll be sure to leave another comment saying so.

  3. Todd: I recently read Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue.

    It pretty much went through the “5 points of Calvinism” with a non-Calvinist taking one chapter and a Calvinist taking the next.

    The tone was pleasant and they did a good job of covering the material. The book had an emphasis on working together (at evangelism for example) as Southern Baptists rather than fighting over the 5 points.

  4. Nick, Are you really recommending this book by Geisler? You can do better than that! There are better books out there that argue against Calvinism.

  5. TC: I recommended it with a couple of caveats. If someone wants a different view other than the Calvinist/Arminian view then they should read it. But overall I wasn’t very impressed with this book. I think that Geisler misrepresented both camps, and hijacked Calvinist language in order to make his bastardized Calvinism sound more palatable.

  6. TC: I’m sure you’ve heard this before, but James White thinks that Geisler had one of his undergrad classes write the appendix that responds to The Potter’s Freedom as a class project. I wonder if he had them write the whole book. ;)

  7. TC: I’m glad it was just ‘almost.’ ;)

    Chuck: I don’t know what ‘reasership’ is, but if you want more readers perhaps you should post more often. I’m sure you could turn the commentary off the DVDs long enough to put a few extra posts together. ;)

  8. Nick:I could use an automated spell checker, too.
    I’ve discovered that it blogging its all about “what have you done for me in the last five minutes?”

    I meant to post more during vacation, but ended up watching about twelve (mostly bad!) dvds. I could do an “avoid these dvds for heaven’s sake” post.

    Maybe my desert island rap CDs, huh?

  9. Based upon the thoughtful defense of the essential truth of the Trinity, I would think you’d spend as much time on such an important topic as the Doctrine of Predestination. I’ve read both CBF and TPF, and I can say without hesitation that James White takes Norman Geisler to the tiles. I might add that he does so respectfully, and without guile, but relentlessly, and rightly. For anyone who is unwilling to read a more exhaustive defense such as the “Reformed Doctrine of Predestination” (by Loraine Boettner — yes, it’s a man named Loraine, believe it or not), my I humbly submit this brief (approx 125p) defense of the Biblical Doctrine of Predestination, titled “Sovereign Grace – An Examination of the Five Points of Calvinism”. I’d love to see what possible defenses there are against this succinct, concise defense of what it quite possibly the second most important Doctrine in all of Christianity — one that affects every facet of our thoughts concerning God, mankind, sin, and salvation:

    God saves sinners!

  10. Stegokitty: I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying a lot of different doctrines, predestination being one of them, and I have no doubt that White wrote a better book even if I don’t agree with his views on the subject. But that’s because Geisler’s book was so bad. That said, I don’t have the time right now to read your apologetic or argue against it, but you might consider talking to the folks at Arminian Perspectives. They might take a crack at it.

  11. Nick, You said to Todd “odd: I haven’t read a lot of books on the subject, so I wouldn’t know if such a book does exist”, and then said to me “I’ve spent quite a bit of time studying a lot of different doctrines, predestination being one of them”. Now, it’s entirely possible that between the time you wrote to Todd, and the time you wrote to me that you read considerably more, but that’s a mere 15 months, which I don’t count as being sufficient for “quite a bit of time” for this extremely important topic. If you’ve read the book by Boettner that I previously suggested, I’d be interested in seeing a review on it. In all honesty, I don’t believe our position is refutable. And I believe that anyone approaching the subject carefully, diligently, prayerfully, and willing to be wrong in their current position, they will find that a book such as The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination is not only balanced, and fair, but honest with the Scriptures. Again, please try to apply as much care to this as you did with the Doctrine of the Trinity. The rewards are indescribable.

  12. Stegokitty: Bored, huh? For the record, “studying” a doctrine doesn’t require the reading of books written by theologians/scholars on said doctrine. As a young Christian I was introduced to Calvinist soteriology and I spent years studying what Scripture had to say about the various points. In addition to that I’ve also read books, articles, online material, etc., and I could provide you with a detailed bibliography if I wanted to, but I don’t, so I won’t. I have not read Boettner, nor do I have any plans on reading Boettner, so a review will not be forthcoming. Sorry. Hope to see you in another 15 months.

  13. Nick,

    I’m sorry if my delayed response is offensive to you.
    I simply lead a rather busy life, and every now and then I get a little time to do things which are not as important.

    “As a young Christian I was introduced to Calvinist soteriology and I spent years studying what Scripture had to say about the various points”.

    Hm, your response is a bit strange, seeing as you reviewed Norman Geisler’s horrid little book, and were fair enough (though your bias showed through on the points which you serendipitously chose to agree with NG). And one must ask, do you disregard the teaching and writing of the theologians who’ve gone on before us over the past 2,000 years — that is, are you constantly reinventing the wheel? Or rather, do you use those sources for things that you’ve already chosen to believe are true (such as the Trinity — though that one is certainly a good one to agree with the Church catholic/universal on), but disregard those sources which might put what you’ve decided is “comfortable” in jeopardy?

    I must challenge you, dear brother, to read Boettner’s book.
    The one question we must ask about anything is “Is this true?”, not “Does this conform with how I want truth to be.” I would expect as much from any honest, thinking person, but especially a Christian.

  14. Stegokitty: Your delayed response was surprising; not offensive. I rarely get people coming back after more than a year to leave additional comments on a given post. I’m glad to hear that you lead a busy and fulfilling life. I’m also flattered that my musings popped into your mind after such an extended period of time.

    Having said that, I can’t see what was strange about my reply. Did you see the sentence after the one you quoted? Since I have a moment I’ll recap the course of events here.

    1. Todd asked me if I knew of a book that presented a “balanced view” of election.
    2. I replied that I knew of no such book because I hadn’t read many books devoted to said topic (i.e., presenting a “balanced view” of election or even books devoted to election in and of itself).
    3. In the interim, I have yet to come across a book that presents a “balanced view” of election. I also have not read many books devoted to election and that alone.
    4. You somehow doubted that 15 months was enough time for me to get acquainted with a subject that I was already acquainted with (hence my ability to critique Geisler’s horrid little book at all). You’d be surprised how many books I can read in 15 months (it’s more than the average bear, I’ll tell you that much).
    5. I assured you that one needn’t read what scholars and theologians say about a topic in Scripture in order to study said topic (I mean the first guy to ever write a commentary on a Biblical book didn’t have other commentators to appeal to, did he?). This is a simple statement of fact; one that I can’t imagine anyone disagreeing with.
    6. I then mentioned that I have read works (be they books, articles, or online material) in addition to the Bible on the topic. Again, I could provide you with a bibliography, but I feel no compulsion to do so. I will however throw you a bone and say that I have 8 systematic theologies lining my bookshelves, all of which deal with the issue, most of which deal with it from a Reformed perspective.
    7. So now I’ll conclude with current events: Your challenge has been noted and refused. I have no interest in Boettner. Thank you for taking the time to suggest him but he doesn’t appeal to me. Not because he’s Reformed (again, I read plenty of Reformed writers), but because I have plenty of other stuff to read at the moment and this isn’t a pressing issue for me.

    And the one question you suggest we should all ask if exactly the driving question of all my studies on Reformed soteriology. In the end I have concluded that it is not true but I think they come by their error honestly if that’s any consolation.

    All the best.

  15. Nick,
    “You’d be surprised how many books I can read in 15 months ”

    I don’t doubt that you (or many other people) can read a great number of books in 15 months. The point is, did you understand what you were reading?

    If, after having read so many books on the topic, you are currently not a Calvinist, then I can only conclude that :
    a) You didn’t understand what you were reading, but read in order to combat that which you didn’t understand.
    b) You purposefully ignored what you saw as the (irrefutable) reason for the Reformed position on this topic.

    Jesus said “No one CAN (that is, no one has the ability to) come to me, UNLESS (necessary condition) the Father draws (a powerful movement/attraction, effectual, not merely probable) him, and I will raise him up on the Last Day; No one CAN come to me, UNLESS it (the ability to come, not mere permission, since “can” has to do with ability, and is not to be confused with “may”) is granted to him, and I will raise him up on the Last Day; EVERYONE who hears and learns from the Father COMES TO ME, and I will raise him up on the Last Day”

    He also said to those who did not believe:
    “You do not believe BECAUSE you are not my sheep”.

    Those who are Christ’s sheep are those who learn from the Father, who are given the ability to come, and who DO come, and these (ALL of these) are raised up on the Last Day.

    This is inescapable.
    And Paul totally cements this in place in Romans.

    And again, “Those who were ordained to eternal life believed”.

    I know that these are not new to you, but that only proves that you are purposefully doing to these Scriptures that which you would never allow (and rightly so) to be done to Trinitarian Scriptures.

    Well, I guess that’s it.
    I’m always disappointed when it comes to those of the anti-Calvinist position.
    It seems that people are interested in truth, so long as it makes them comfortable.

    Have a nice day.

  16. Stegokitty: I’m sure you could draw other conclusions and I’d hope that any of those others might be correct. I guess you just don’t want to. Alrighty then… that’s enough about that.

  17. Nick,
    I had not read this review. Nice one. Geisler’s book was like rubbing my eyes with sandpaper, though he enlarged my understanding about turning to other books to avoid context sensitive readings.

    Also, Stegokitty’s irrefutable argument is refutable.

    In John 6:44-55 Jesus is speaking in historical terms. The drawing of the disciples was Jesus’ teaching of them. The people refuse to come because Jesus’ time to draw all to himself has not come. He explains this very event in John 12:32, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.” And then in John 14:26-16:8 or so Jesus teaching in intervals about how after he is lifted the Holy Spirit will work to convince those who have been unable to come to God.

    This same idea is seen in Mark’s gospel, Jesus speaks in parables because it is for his inner circle to understand God’s kingdom, but on the cross even the centurion realizes that Jesus is God’s Son. Gah! A-contexual readings of scripture are awesome for confirming our own beliefs.


  18. Geoff: When I started this book I thought it was the greatest thing I had ever read. Then I got past the table of contents and realized that I was wrong.

    And you’re so right — a-contextual arguments are the best!

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